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Exceptionalism through time
June 30th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

Despite fights about its merits, idea of American exceptionalism a powerful force through history

This is the first in a series exploring the concept of American exceptionalism. On Monday, we examine areas in which other countries lead the way.

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) – It’s safe to say the first European arrivals to New England wouldn’t recognize today’s debate over whether America is exceptional.

Though the United States wouldn’t be born for another century and a half, the Puritans arriving in the early 1600s on the shores of what would become Massachusetts firmly believed they were on a mission from God.

In other words, they had the exceptional part down pat.

Fleeing what they saw as the earthly and corrupt Church of England, the Puritans fancied themselves the world’s last, best hope for purifying Christianity - and for saving the world.

The Puritans never used the word “exceptionalism.” But they came to see Boston as the new Jerusalem, a divinely ordained “city upon a hill,” a phrase Massachusetts Bay Colony founder John Winthrop used in a sermon at sea en route from England in 1630.

“They were reinterpreting themselves as God’s new Israel,” Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero said. “They were essentially playing out the biblical story.”

To modern ears, that literal exceptionalist thinking could sound at once both exotic and quaint, which makes the idea’s staying power and influence throughout American history all the more remarkable.

Photos: Faces of citizenship

Nearly four centuries after Winthrop uttered the words “city on a hill,” President Barack Obama finds himself responding to charges from Republican challenger Mitt Romney that he has insufficient faith in American exceptionalism.

“Our president doesn’t have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do,” Romney said at a campaign stop this year. “You have an opportunity to vote and take the next step in bringing back that special nature of being American.”

Obama has pushed back on that claim, saying in a recent speech that “the character of our country … has always made us exceptional.”

Though the particulars surrounding the idea have changed, the bedrock belief that America is exceptional when measured against the arc of history and against all other nations has helped forge the nation’s defining moments, from the American Revolution and the country’s dramatic expansion west to the Civil War and both World Wars.

More recently, arguments about American exceptionalism have helped elect and unseat presidents – and have fed a debate about whether the phrase still has any meaning.

'An asylum for mankind'

For New England’s Puritans, exceptionalism was a religious idea with big political repercussions.

They thought the Protestant Reformation, which had been set into motion a century before, hadn’t gone nearly far enough in rooting out the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church.

Puritans saw the pomp and hierarchy of the Protestant Church of England as too much like another papacy.

My Take: How I constructed 'The American Bible'

In New England, Winthrop and his fellow travelers established a theocracy that they hoped would be a model for English Christianity.

“They had to succeed to bring about this promised apocalyptic history that would culminate in the second coming of Christ, hopefully to New England,” said Deborah Madsen, an American studies professor at the University of Geneva.

“To fail would be to fail the world on this grand, transcendent scale,” said Madsen, who has studied the idea of American exceptionalism throughout U.S. history.

With the stakes thought to be so high, there was intense social pressure among Puritans to adhere to a strict moral code.

Everyone looked for signs that they were among the elect destined for heaven and kept a watchful eye out for neighbors who might be backsliding. The starkest example: the Salem witch trials of 1692, in which 19 people were hanged in Massachusetts for allegedly practicing witchcraft.

“If the members of the community fulfilled their part in the work of sacred history, not only would the individuals find salvation, but the whole community would be saved,” Madsen said, summarizing Puritan thinking. “But if any individual failed to live up to this grand destiny, the entire community would be denied salvation.”

Being God’s chosen people, it turned out, wasn’t all roses.

America exceptional? Not by the numbers

As new arrivals and subsequent generations enlarged colonial America, the Puritans’ faith-based ideas were gradually secularized.

By 1660, it had become clear to the Massachusetts theocrats that they wouldn’t be exporting their ideas abroad anytime soon. That was the year the British monarchy was restored after a decade of rule by the Cromwells, putting an end to Puritan rule in England and re-establishing the Church of England as a political power.

And with new Enlightenment ideas making their way from Europe about a rational universe knowable through reason, the Puritans’ quest for perfect religious institutions gave way to a colonial quest for perfect political institutions.

My Faith: Why I don’t sing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’

The democratic ideas that made up this new political exceptionalism owed plenty to Winthrop & Co.

“Puritans had mapped out the relationship between church and the community that included the seed of democratic participation,” said Madsen. “The idea was that everyone had rights but also responsibilities.

“By fulfilling their responsibilities and respecting the rights of others, they would achieve happiness through the social contract.”

That egalitarianism helped lay the groundwork for the American Revolution, though Madsen notes that “the terms of reference had changed from salvation to democracy.”

America’s revolutionaries were keenly aware that their calls for democratic government in the face of English rule were exceptional for their time.

“Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression,” Thomas Paine wrote in 1776 in “Common Sense,” which helped galvanize colonists toward the Revolutionary War.

“Freedom hath been hunted round the globe,” Paine wrote. “Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger. … O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.”

The Puritan vision of America as world’s godly beacon had been replaced by the image of the nation as the world’s workshop for political and social progress. America’s founders wanted to break with what they saw as the corruption of European politics and society, where a person’s status was mostly a matter of inheritance.

By contrast, the founders proposed in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

While other republics had come and gone, many of the founders who signed the Declaration - and, later, the Constitution - wanted the American Republic to endure forever.

This was city on a hill 2.0.

Manifest destiny

Reading the founders’ paeans to American exceptionalism - about aspiring to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” as the Constitution puts it - can put a lump in your throat.

But their vision excluded huge swaths of the population, like women and slaves. And other applications of the idea had their own dark sides.

Take Manifest Destiny.

As the nascent United States strove to expand westward in the 1800s, its leaders faced major problems, including how to justify taking land that belonged to Europe or that was occupied by Native Americans.

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Manifest Destiny – the idea that it was God’s will for the U.S. government to occupy North America or all of the Americas – offered a big part of the answer.

“A civilization that has the sanction of God is always the ultimate justification,” said the University of Geneva’s Madsen. “The idea was that God had made it manifest that the U.S. should expand. … It’s not much different than the idea of American exceptionalism.”

Like many facets of exceptionalism, the notion of Manifest Destiny wasn’t entirely new.

In the 1500s, Queen Elizabeth of England had established herself as a divinely ordained monarch whose reign had been presaged by the Bible. That mythology, which inspired Puritan exceptionalism, had helped English plantation owners justify forays into what is now Northern Ireland.

In the same way, Manifest Destiny helped justify the United States as it laid claim to European land and forcibly removed tens of thousands of American Indians. Many asserted that the campaign was meant to civilize or Christianize the natives, making good on America’s “chosenness.”

And the American image of a continent brimming with virgin land – which denied the presence of American Indians there – synched nicely with long-held exceptionalist visions of an unspoiled and utopian New World.

“Our manifest destiny (is) to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions,” American newspaper editor John S. O’Sullivan wrote in 1845, arguing for the annexation of Texas, in what is believed to be history’s first mention of Manifest Destiny.

It’s hard to know how much America’s leaders truly believed in the idea versus how much they employed it for purely political ends. Manifest Destiny certainly had high-profile critics, including Mark Twain, who declared himself an “anti-imperialist.”

“If you’re a cynical person and you see something like the Mexican-American War as a land grab, you can say this idea of Manifest Destiny was construed to create a moral tissue for a war of aggression,” Boston University international relations professor Andrew Bacevich said.

The westward expansion was driven largely by Southerners who wanted to farm the land and expand American slavery.

But abolitionists like Frederick Douglass also appropriated American exceptionalism, arguing that the nation’s “peculiar institution” was evidence that America was falling short of its Christian mandate.

That abolitionist line foreshadowed a key argument of 20th-century liberals: If America is exceptional, it’s because of the decisions we make around justice, not because of innate “chosenness.”

By Douglass’ time, American exceptionalism was so deeply entrenched in the American psyche that it transcended religion. Abraham Lincoln, often described as a deist - believing in a distant, uninvolved God - was nonetheless a hearty exceptionalist.

“He believed that America was leading the way in history toward democracy and equality,” said Dorothy Ross, a history professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins University. “At that time, Europe is still steeped in monarchs and failed revolutions, and America was still the only mass democracy in the Western world and believed that it was leading the historical way.”

Even the relatively unreligious Lincoln came to see the hand of God actively participating in American history through the Civil War.

“He gives to both North and South this terrible war,” Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, referring to God. “American slavery,” Lincoln said, was something that “He now wills to remove.”

The first president to say it

Despite its centuries-old influence, the term "American exceptionalism" didn’t emerge until sometime in the past 100 years.

Some historians say it’s unclear who coined the phrase, while others credit Joseph Stalin with doing so in 1929, when he admonished American communists for suggesting that the United States’ unique history could make it immune to Marxism.

In his reprimand, the Soviet leader decried “the heresy of American exceptionalism.”

Ironically, American intellectuals and eventually the broader public came to embrace the term, especially in the years following World War II, even after communists used the Great Depression as evidence of Stalin’s alleged "heresy.”

Just like President Woodrow Wilson had done in World War I, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman justified American involvement in World War II largely on the basis that the country had been chosen to lead and transform the world.

After the Second World War, “the United States had emerged as the strongest country,” said Johns Hopkins’ Ross. “Social scientists began studying things like national character and what makes America unique.”

American affection for the idea grew during the Cold War, as the U.S. attempted to distinguish itself from the “godless” Soviet Union.

“Our governments, in every branch ... must be as a city upon a hill,” John F. Kennedy said in a Boston speech just before his inauguration in 1961, citing John Winthrop by name.

In the ’60s and ’70s, however, American scholars and others began challenging the idea of American exceptionalism, mostly from the left and especially after the Vietnam War, which liberals criticized as a costly exercise in American hubris.

Historians began to see exceptionalism as a scholarly construct, a way of interpreting American history rather than as accepted fact.

Ronald Reagan illustrated the partisan gap around the idea, speaking of America as a “city on a hill” and attacking President Jimmy Carter for allegedly showing weakness on the world stage, including in the Iran hostage crisis.

“We cannot escape our destiny, nor should we try to do so,” Reagan told the first annual Conservative Political Action Conference in 1974. “We are today the last best hope of man on Earth.”

President George W. Bush employed similar rhetoric in his global “freedom agenda,” even after initially pledging a “humble” foreign policy.

Despite greater Republican than Democratic support for the idea (91% vs. 70%) , a 2010 Gallup poll found that 80% of Americans subscribed to the notion that the U.S. has a “unique character that makes it the greatest country in the world.”

Boston University’s Prothero criticizes that definition of American exceptionalism, which he says is how most American politicians use the term today.

For John Winthrop, the shining city was an aspiration that depended on the righteous behavior of the Puritans, Prothero says, part of the social contract that laid the groundwork for democracy. Whether the city would in fact shine was an open question.

If the Puritans dealt falsely with their God, Winthrop had said in his 1630 sermon, there will be “curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going.”

In contemporary American politics, by contrast, Prothero says the idea of exceptionalism has been stripped of its conditionalism, becoming “a kind of brag.”

“Today, it’s ‘of course God blesses America,’ ” he said. “It’s presumptuous.”

Others have attacked the idea as little more than the kind of nationalism felt by citizens of countries all over the world.

“I believe in American exceptionalism,” President Obama said in France in 2009, “just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”

But the president has since sounded a different tune. In his Air Force Academy commencement speech in May, Obama repeatedly expressed support for American exceptionalism.

“The United States has been, and will always be, the one indispensable nation in world affairs,” Obama said. “It's one of the many examples of why America is exceptional.”

In fact, Obama appears to be the first sitting president to publicly use those words, political experts say. Given their place in the modern American political lexicon, nearly 400 years after Winthrop first gave voice to the idea, he is unlikely to be the last.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Catholic Church • Christianity • Europe • Mitt Romney • Politics • Protestant • Religious liberty • United Kingdom • United States

soundoff (3,068 Responses)
  1. Jack

    Hello. Everyone is welcome to visit – thestarofkaduri.com

    July 3, 2012 at 10:56 am |
    • Joe

      The moderator needs to get Jack off this board

      July 3, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      NO

      July 3, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Moderator

      Joe
      You want me to jack off who?

      July 3, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  2. Joe

    What makes america exceptional? Its a large country full of natural resources and with limited land boundaries and geographical isolation to other countries. It basically has no land threats compared to most other countries. It contained a primative, disorganised native peoples that were easily defeated. Fortunately it was colonized by people whose language would be the standard of most modern day business.

    Having the rest of the world demolish its industrial base during many wars help immensely as well.

    July 3, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      There is one further aspect of the United States that is quite remarkable. Despite being written (or at least approved) by committee, the Const.tution and the Bill of Rights were a blueprint for the future.

      The founders' concepts of freedom (including freedom of and from religion) linked with personal responsibility were, in their day, truly exceptional and helped make the United States a truly great country.

      The real question here is not the historical greatness of the United States but the notion that this will be enduring *because* it was divinely inspired. That is patent nonsense.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • JellyBean@I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Hear, hear!! Well said.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  3. stingerhp

    How can ANYONE expect to fly like an eaagle, when they are being led by TURKEYS ? ? ?

    July 3, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      lame

      July 3, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  4. cacique

    American exeptionality comes from its ability to innovate and to improve on whatever there is at hand, and the development of new technologies. I think, however, that one of the most important evidences of our country's exeptionality comes from our freedom of enterprise, it is our choice to place our bet on any activity we prefer and to proceed as we wish.

    We have a lot of problems, but I am casting my little coin in the fountain of history to come to wish for a better distribution of wealth, a more tolerant society to reach the goals stated on our Bill of Rights over many years ago...

    July 3, 2012 at 10:33 am |
  5. Anthony

    Exceptionally fat.

    July 3, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • John Holmes

      My head is exceptional.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  6. rdeleys

    American exceptionalism is nothing more than dangerous, mindless nationalism. It provides a convenient excuse for military adventures and a fig leaf to cover up and justify the exploitation of others. It relieves American citizens of their obligation to actually think.

    July 3, 2012 at 10:11 am |
    • TR6

      “It relieves American citizens of their obligation to actually think.”

      Oh no, that’s religions job. Remember we must uphold the separation of church and state

      July 3, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  7. jane

    there is no evidence to suggest that we are exceptional! the belief that somehow the US Is above and beyond all other peoples is absolute bull-crap. we are all just plain old humans. those who are hyper-religious "forget" that ben franklin, thomas jefferson, madison and lincoln ALL were against our govt becoming a religious state. we are a secular country. get real!!!

    July 3, 2012 at 10:10 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Jane,

      surely you realize that God in his infinite wisdom inspired James Madison and the other framers to deliberately exclude any notion of God from the Const.tution of the United States, and further stipluate that:

      "but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

      so that without any reference to God, the secular nation could become great.

      This country is great not because it was founded by Christians, but because they turned their backs on traditional European model of state-backed religion and created a secular state independent of personal religious beliefs. It was a magnificent accomplishment.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:35 am |
  8. Mike

    America is exceptional because of it's FREEDOM and OPPORTUNITY.
    Obama first mission was a World Wide Apology Tour..... Michelle was proud for the FIRST TIME.....

    This article is a propaganda piece for Obama who is destroying freedoms and exceptionalism though a much bigger government of bondage........

    July 3, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • rdeleys

      I wish just once that instead of making silly assertions, you could back up those assertions with actual facts and references.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:07 am |
    • phk46

      You are living in a dream world if you don't think America has anything to apologize for.
      Obama had a lot of apologizing to do for Bush.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  9. Kris

    The U.S.A. was exceptional in that we used to recognize our flaws and move towards expanded equality and freedom for we, the people, while cautiously giving the government necessary powers. Today, in the name of security, we are losing freedoms every day and the only flaws most can see are the flaws in the "other party".

    July 3, 2012 at 9:37 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      The only necessary power the government should have is security. Other than that, everything else is tyranny, especially income tax.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:41 am |
    • rdeleys

      @ Rational Libertarian - Some of us enjoy the benefits of civilized society and aspire to more than a jungle existence. There is a price to be paid for civilization.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:15 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      What does civilization have to do with income tax? People are willing to give up their freedoms for any little luxury or handout.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • phk46

      Rational Libertarian – even if the only thing the federal government was responsible for was security, it would still need a revenue source for that.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:33 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      phk46

      I agree. It's called consumption tax.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:35 am |
    • Joe

      That is true, one example is eliminating the blue laws that prevented you from buying beer Sunday mornings before a round of golf... gotta love the USA.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Inglourious

      @Rational Libertarian: "The only necessary power the government should have is security". The purposes for forming the Federal government are laid out in the Preamble; they include more than providing for the common defence [sic].

      July 3, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  10. Dodney Rangerfield

    You won't they can't help themselves from being ass holes and sticking their noses into other folks business

    July 3, 2012 at 9:02 am |
    • captain america

      You are referencing canadians? There's your sign

      July 3, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      You know it cap.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:08 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Cap'n Rangerfield
      You're schizophrenic too? That makes 10 of us!

      July 3, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Oh, knock it off. Everyone knows you're just responding to your own posts.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:17 am |
    • truth be told

      I don't know that Tom Tom please share your proof

      July 3, 2012 at 10:38 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You're here. Proof.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:39 am |
    • truth be told

      I do not know how to break it to you Tom, but that's not proof. Sorry you lose.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Religion is the #1 problem in this world by far

      A Christian asking for proof of something. Oh, the irony!

      July 3, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  11. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things ,

    July 3, 2012 at 8:57 am |
    • FSM

      I am the one TRUE God, the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Thou shall not have any other gods before me. After is ok, just use protection.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:12 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      All hail His Noodly Appendage.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:16 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      R'amen!

      July 3, 2012 at 9:34 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer doesn’t not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!! !

      July 3, 2012 at 10:23 am |
    • well well well

      Assumptions without proof are the province of idiots.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:37 am |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

      Prayer changes things
      Abundantly given
      Abundantly proven
      Abundantly known
      Prayer changes things

      July 3, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • Joe

      Prayer changes things by eliminating reason and thought to a problem or situation. Dont come up with a solution just let 'god' take care of it... the choice of idiots.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      I see we're back on the front page and the usual suspects are feeding the troll.

      Is it too hard to post even remotely close to the topic?

      July 3, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  12. Oscar Pitchfork

    America was/is an experiment in freedom-freedom to think, freedom to do, and freedom to be as stupid and nearsighted as you want to be. In these past 40 years of extreme enlightenment, we see all manner of perverse behavior extolled as normal, all manner of business practices seen as "just normal business", and a complete disregard for the truth, in advertising, politics and, now, the internet as an acceptable way of life. The latest
    republican shenanigans will be the last nail in the coffin, however, as we see the easily gulled majority of "trendy' voters give this once-great country away to those who have and still will sell her out for a few (or for many) bucks. This country will end, as it began, in revolution...

    July 3, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      True, but the real probelm is the media. When the media hypes things that they know are very untrue in a way that makes people think that it is there is a huge problem. Of course the gullable masses who believe in things like ghosts, UFOs, and angels dont help much.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:00 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      What's wrong with believing in UFOs?

      July 3, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      What I meant to say is alien visitors. Just as much evidence that UFOs are from other planets as there are for the existance of gods.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Barney

      True. But the REAL real truth is that America has gotten fat and lazy. We don't take the time to truly understand the issues that effect us. We don't look into who we are voting for. We don't get the fact that no term limits on congress has destroyed our ability to be forward thinking and brave about decision making, rather it has become a place where people create laws and vote for laws that will keep them their jobs. How is that? Because if they do what big money wants, they'll get big money to campaign with and use it to brainwash the fat, lazy American society into thinking they are the ones to vote for. Further, if there were term limits, people in office would have no choice but to want to leave a legacy of improvement in America, because when their term limit ends there better be something impressive on that resume or they won't be getting the best jobs. Simple solutions, and big money wins. That's the fallen world we live in, perfectly described by the Word of God in the Bible. It is what it is for a reason.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I disagree. Statistically, there is obviously plenty of intelligent life in the universe. There's probably even plenty of intelligent life in our galaxy. It's possible that their civilizations are much more advanced than ours, so there is every likelihood that we have been visited by aliens, even if only for a roadside picnic. While I don't necessarily believe that we have been visited, I would say that there is some evidence, although speculative.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:39 am |
    • Who invited me?

      Barbey.
      So you are saying the Bible is what it is for a reason. If you check out why the bible was written you will find it was created by one group of a certain religion to control those that aren't of the same religion. The creators of the bible have an exclusive club that you can't join, but still need to control those who aren't in their club, so they create your bible, deny just enough of it to make it look like they had nothing to do with it, and hijack other beliefs and make them "yours".
      Christians are the puppets to the jews who wrote your bible and created your god.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:42 am |
    • kls817

      Hey Libertarian: you are a good example of a nitwit wanna-be scientist/intellectual. You only have one data point and in case you didn't know it, one data point does not lend itself to any statistical evaluation. There is absolutely no evidence for extraterrestrial life.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:01 am |
  13. Farakan

    America is a great nation – Exceptional maybe. Truth is that we have managed to take our eye off the ball with all the political posturing. What made America exceptional was its ability to bring divergent thoughts together – today that seems imposssible.

    July 3, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  14. Doc Vestibule

    The U.S.A. is a nation founded by the self-righteous. Though the term most often used in conjunction with the frontier settlers is "pilgrim", the proper term is "puritan". Those ships that landed at Plymouth Rock carried a tribe of people disillusioned with what they saw as the moral degeneration of their homeland. Convinced of their righteousness and confident in their role as God's messengers, they sought to impose their will on a new land and it's peoples under the guise of bringing elightenment. The mentality was hardly new, being the same as that of the crusades. Holding an entire race of people at musket point and condeming their cultures from a fiery pulpit, the arrogant, confrontational and technologically superior invaders saw no hypocrisy in killing those who refused conversion.
    Once those pesky pagans had been both diminished in numbers and relocated, America lapsed into a century and a half of insular navel gazing. Ignoring international politics, the nation's methods of rationalization became widely accepted and formalized. While paying lip service to the lofty ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Const.itution, the pervasive mentality was obviously contrary to the "self evident truth that all men are created equal". White, Christian land owners may have been equals in at least an abstract, moralistic context but a slave based economy can hardly be considered egalitarian. The eventual abolition of slavery in a legal sense did very little to help the former slaves. Though denied the right to whip them thar ne.groes with impunity, the social elite were firmly established, milky white, “god fearing” and totally unwilling to alter the status quo in any meaningful way. No one save for the Mayflower descendents could realistically aspire to affluence or power. Some argue that this dichotomy still exists.
    Unlike Europe, and indeed most of the rest of the globe, the states gained much more than they lost due to their involvement in the war. It cannot be denied that it was their eventual involvement that resulted in the comparatively quick resolution, but so bloody what?
    The morale of the populace at large never had a chance to degrade. Though many soldiers died in combat, it was more abstract to those on the home front. With no worry of invasion, aerial bombings, or indeed any credible threat to the home front and it’s manufacturing capabilities , it was possible for the yanks to adjust their industrial infrastructure with relative impunity.
    The dismal years of the Great Depression, still fresh in the memories of many citizens, made people realize how tenuous their economic system could be. The country needed new industry to reinvigorate the economy and, at the time, that industry was weapons manufacturing.
    The war proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that given the proper incentive, the American people could be astoundingly productive. In just a few short years, America became a self professed military Super Power. With no need to rebuild the larger social structure after the war, the money that everyone else had to spend just to get back to a decent standard of living was freely dispensed to increase arms production, perpetuating the cycle of prosperity.
    Defense spending started to rise and has done nothing but ever since, as has (by and large) the standard of living in America.
    Unfortunately, prosperity in a weapons based economy is obviously contingent on having a market for those arms. Sometimes, a doc/ument like PNAC (Project for a New American Century) comes to light and the world sees exactly how the elites think and the details of their quest to spread the "Pax Americana" are laid bare.

    July 3, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      By "the war", I'm referring to the second world war. (in case that isn't clear)

      July 3, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Atheist Hunter

      And it worked perfectly until atheists were given the right to kick God out!

      July 3, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • Prayer for the country

      God keep our land... prayer from the Canadian national anthem. Canadian "atheists" appear on these blogs to undermine and belittle the fabric of America. They are unheard and unwanted in their own country, double that here.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Mirosal

      So you're saying... take away the rights of Atheists to NOT believe... is that correct? Make them belive, or kick them out? I just want to be clear on what YOU mean by what you said.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:49 am |
    • Sheep Hunter

      Prayer doesn't work, never has, never will. Next time you are seriously ill, just pray really hard instead of going to the ER or the doctor. Let us know how that works out for you.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Who invited me?

      Justbecause I don't buy into the whole Theory of god, doesn't mean I'm Canadian. There is no reason to insult someone like that.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • truth be told

      there is no use for atheists anywhere, neither here nor there.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:52 am |
    • Atheist Hunter

      I have, it works great!

      July 3, 2012 at 8:54 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Cap'n Saying Atheism Isn't an Angry Rangerfield Pervert Country
      Don't you ever get tired of trolling?

      July 3, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • truth be told

      When confronted by Truth, attack the messengers, an old atheist / qu eer trick.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      @Truth be told
      And would you be the pot or the kettle?

      July 3, 2012 at 9:04 am |
    • truth be told

      Struck a nerve on the foreign undermining troll – atheist filth hates the Truth

      July 3, 2012 at 9:06 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      She's too fat to get out of her trailer... that's why she's on these boards nearly 24hrs a day.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • sam stone

      tbt: jeebus is fully aroused and waiting for the silky goodness of your mouth.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:55 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Doc

      Don't confuse the Mayflower 'Pilgrims' of 1620 and the Puritans of 1630. They were quite different Protestant sects. The Pligrims were 'separatists', meaning they separated themselves from the Anglican church and were essentially an outcast religious group.

      The 'Puritans' endeavored to 'purify' the Anglican church. It is the Puritans who drove the English civil war. They were anti-monarchical because of pro-Catholic tendencies they percieved in the Stuart kings and ultimately they executed Charles I.

      This same anti-monarchical mindset was important motivation for the revolution in Massachusetts. Even though England restored the monarchy later in the 17th century, a century later, the good people of Massachusetts never really accepted it.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Prayer for the country,

      Canadian "atheists"??? Really? You don't think there are enough atheists in the US to go around?

      I don't want to use labels or name-calling, but if this is a genuine post (as opposed to intentional trolling) that thinking feels paranoid to me.

      July 3, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  15. Atheist Hunter

    America is exceptional as long as the hand of God is on it. Rebellion against God brings deception, not exception! Find Jesus before it is too late for you. Read the news and the bible people. Time is ticking!

    July 3, 2012 at 8:43 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      The hand of God sure loves children. And let's just say hand is a double entandre.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Sheep Hunter

      Jesus has been dead for over 2,000 years, time to move on!

      July 3, 2012 at 8:47 am |
    • Who invited me?

      You'd be better off finding Waldo

      July 3, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Atheist Hunter

      But the hand of satan and man destroys children without the intervention of God!

      July 3, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      If God is omniscient and omnipotent, what's the deal with Satan?

      Also, if Satan is Lucifer, I'm on Satan's side. He stood up to God's tyranny.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Atheist Hunter

      Rational Lib....great, he's got a burning cell waiting for you. Your choice.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:55 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      You didn't answer my question. What's the deal with Satan if God is all powerful?

      July 3, 2012 at 9:05 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      "the First Amendment explicitly forbid the establishment of any official church or creed. There is also a story, probably apocryphal, that Benjamin Franklin’s proposal to call in a chaplain to offer a prayer when a particularly controversial issue was being debated in the Consti.tutional Convention prompted Hamilton to observe that he saw no reason to call in foreign aid. If there is a clear legacy bequeathed by the founders, it is the insistence that religion was a private matter in which the state should not interfere." (http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2007/02/the-us-founding-fathers-their-religious-beliefs/)

      July 3, 2012 at 9:09 am |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      LET's Religiosity Law #1 – If Jesus came back today he would be shot in the head. That's what you do to put down zombies; otherwise they eat your brains.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:17 am |
    • phk46

      "America is exceptional as long as the hand of God is on it"???

      And: Saudi Arabia is exceptional as long as the hand of God is on it?
      And: Afganistan is exceptional as long as the hand of God is on it?
      And: Israel is exceptional as long as the hand of God is on it?

      I have been feeling the "hand of God" ever since they added "under God" to the pledge in 1954.
      And not appreciating it.

      July 3, 2012 at 10:43 am |
  16. pablo

    Is America exceptional? Good question. Maybe before the democrats took over and ruined the country we were. Maybe we were before the govt decided it was more important to protect union jobs than provide a good education to our children. Maybe we were before that nitwit Obama cancelled the space program to pay for things like Solyndra. Yeah, we used to be exceptional, the greatest country on Earth. Now look at us.....no different than Europe

    July 3, 2012 at 8:36 am |
  17. Atheist Hunter

    You all need to watch Kirk Cameron's movie monumental. God Bless this Christian Nation!

    July 3, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Who invited me?

      Only if you want a laugh....the funniest thing about it is he really believes that crap.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:36 am |
    • Atheist Hunter

      Yes he really believes facts and doesn't live in atheist la la land.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      What facts? All you have and your delusional lazy ass buddy Kirk have is faith....no facts, facts mean you have potential evidence and you don't.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Rational Libertarian

      I recall seeing Les Miserables and Kirk Cameron played Jean Valjean. It was epic.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Sheep Hunter

      "God Bless this Christian Nation!"

      Translation: "baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah"

      July 3, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Atheist Hunter

      Obvious TruthPrevails has not seen the movie. Welcome to our Christian Nation!

      July 3, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Who invited me?

      Silly hunter.
      You really believe the Theory of god, even though there is no factual evidence to back it up, don't you.
      There really is a sucker born every minute.
      Maybe you'd be interseted in some prime swampland I'd like to sell...

      July 3, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      Hey hunter have you heard the one about the Canadian that minded its own F'n business?

      July 3, 2012 at 8:45 am |
    • Dodney Rangerfield

      You won't they can't help themselves from butting in.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:46 am |
    • Sheep Hunter

      Right, because Americans never but in, do they?

      July 3, 2012 at 8:48 am |
    • truth be told

      In this instance the sheep has the advantage over the hunter and will prevail.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • Atheist Hunter

      America was founded as a Christian Nation! That is the facts! The Christians are the backbone of this nation! Without us here to pray to your creator for help and forgiveness you would all self destruct and become extinct!

      July 3, 2012 at 8:53 am |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      I have seen the movie...it was too funny...well worth the laugh. I find it hard to believe that anyone is stupid enough to believe that crap when there is no evidence to back it. I'll take science and actual facts over your fairy tales thank you.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • Who invited me?

      Atheist Hunter
      You are seriously delusional.Typical christian though, believe what I say or get out. You won't acknowledge the contributions of any non-christian, think that just because what you believe what you believe thatyou have exclusive right to tell everyone else to get out, like you have your golden ticket. Fortunatley the facts are that we are not a christian nation, and the nation as a whole is setup to keep religion seperate from government. You will never see the reality of the situation because there are none so blind as those who think they see. I pity you.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:00 am |
  18. Jack

    Sorry for the spam....ignore this post

    July 3, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  19. One Nation Under god IS Divisible

    god
    _______ = 0

    1 nation

    July 3, 2012 at 8:32 am |
  20. Jack

    Hello, everyone is welcome to visit – thestarofkaduri.com

    July 3, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • frespech

      Find something better to pledge your allegiance to than a flag, everybody has a flag.

      July 3, 2012 at 9:32 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.